On Food on Airplanes and at Conferences — Get With the Times!

Jason is perhaps the resident Spend Matters foodie. As for myself, I am picky about coffee, wine, sushi, and a few other food items. Mostly I am concerned with eating healthily and maintaining a reasonable weight, sufficient strength, and energy levels. Now that my weight is back where it should be, I have grown quite picky about not eating poorly, specifically not load up on empty carbs that I then have to work to get off.

Pay attention to what you eat, know when to close your mouth, and your weight will grudgingly obey. Add exercise for the level of strength, energy, and endurance desired. Ta-da!

We don't need any complicated national food programs, menu mandates, or calorie counts on menus – it's fairly simple. The main secret is staying off empty carbs, where the white death (sugar) is enemy number 1. The worst form is high-fructose corn syrup, which ironically we are being force fed by the same bureaucrats that want to regulate our menu options and serving sizes. Once you're old enough to have stopped growing vertically, unless you're an endurance athlete, sugar and empty carbs will only lead to a need for larger clothes.

On to my pet peeve of the day, airplane snacks. I'll use Delta as a reference. Here are your choices: pretzels (fried carbs, oil, salt), peanuts (not a nut, it's a legume with bad carbs, oil, salt), or cookies (refined flour, oil, HFCS, salt). All bad. Add a soda on top and you get 300 or more totally empty calories. Keep that up for a week and you're close to adding a pound of fat to your body!

Next, at the conference you are attending, partake of the bags of chips, chocolate cookies, fried potatoes, bowls of rice, and greasy sausages of indeterminable origin and there's no wonder the procurement profession can be a weighty one. As well as any other group of professionals that regularly attend conferences.

Image from "Sweeney Todd"

Image from "Sweeney Todd"

Not all conference food is bad. I've been to some where Mediterranean cuisine was at the center, with olives, hummus, real salads (not lettuce) with vinaigrette, fresher or steamed vegetables (not boiled to bits), and fish dishes. Serving potatoes, rice, and other bulk carb filler food is probably a lot cheaper for the one running the conference - but it comes at a cost to the attendees. I served myself a plate of plain chicken with a pile of olives and jalapeños at one recent conference. At another I practically emptied out the shrimp bowl, and at a third I pigged out in the sushi section (had to have something, even if white rice is bad).

But back to Delta. Why not offer protein bars instead of the unhealthy choices? In first class there are usually apples and bananas available, which is not great but better than pretzels, peanuts, and cookies. Coach just gets the full HFCS treatment – and ironically, narrower seats. On international flights, it's not that much better, with lots of processed flour products, rice dishes, and overcooked vegetables. I've resorted to bringing my own food along - protein bars, bags with dried blueberries or cranberries (get the kind with no sugar added), and raw almonds (go easy on them, lots of fat).

How Jason copes (he's turned vegan) at conferences I don't know. I have a hard enough time but there's usually a fish or chicken dish to sustain me.

Again, we see how strategic sourcing is the winner. Look at the bigger picture. What are the KPIs and externalities? Whether the audience is savvy enough to challenge the conference menu choices is another thing. In my case, I'm always a guest at conferences, and it is rude to look a gift horse in the mouth. For that reason, I'm not hanging any specific conference out to dry here. I just wish that the meeting planners would consider the overall health impact of their menu options. Pretty please, with no sugar?

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